I have sometimes confused the term humility with unworthiness. We have been battling our addiction for so long, our efforts seemingly to no avail, that we think less of ourselves than we really are: sons and daughters of God.
It is good to walk through the doors of our first meeting feeling that we are powerless; because we are. But that is only Step One. As we move forward in the program, a transformation begins and the words “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,” resonates in my heart.
I remember a young man I will call Jordan (not his real name). When Jordan first came to our group the words of a song came to mind, “But who am I, just a wandering kid, a cipher on the wall, not even brave at all.”
Jordan was not only struggling with daily masturbation and pornography addiction but also with learning challenges. He seemed so down trodden. His clothes where too big and not very clean and I noticed how his shoes were not only old and torn but were at least three sizes too big. I’m not sure how he managed to even walk in those shoes.
Jordan started coming to our meetings, got himself a sponsor and though he struggled at first, he eventually got his first 30 day chip to our supportive applause. Little by little, day by day, Jordan changed. Not just in his behavior but in his countenance. He eventually received what seemed impossible at one time, a one year chip.
He changed jobs, he looked better and eventually this young man met someone who loved him and they got married. I will never forget Jordan, the miracle of change seemed to be more visible in this young man on the inside and the outside.
“What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
God can and will cleanse you and me and Jordan. He will transform you, he will change you and while those changes may seem imperceptible at times, they are the changes that produce the roots, the foundation, even the firm foundation that changes, that transforms the withered tree into a blossoming wind and storm resistant one.
Soon after being confronted with the reality of my sex addiction, and at the time not knowing where to turn, I sought out a professional therapist to assist me in my recovery. During one of our first sessions together he asked me to visualize a “triggering situation,” a scenario that would most likely result in me acting out in my addiction. He then asked me to visualize walking away from the situation or stopping it.
It needed to be a scenario that I knew would cause me to act out if left to myself and then imagine stopping myself at the very moment I was tempted to follow through in an inappropriate way. This sounded like a great idea, a mental role play so I’d be prepared for when temptations of this type happened in real life.
At that time in my life I flew out of state frequently for business. I imagined on such a trip that I would sit next to an attractive woman on the plane and start a conversation that would lead to dinner and then escalate from there.
Following the advice of my therapist, I imagined that as soon as she sat in my row I would exercise willpower, get up and go to another seat. Simple solution, right? Who was I kidding? I knew I would not get up from that seat! I tried to role play the situation in my mind again and again, trying to create enough willpower to get up and sit somewhere else but if I was honest with myself I knew that would never happen.
I got very discouraged with these exercises of trying to find a safe course out of a triggering situation. If I could not imagine a safe solution in my mind, how would I survive it when it became a reality? The truth was, placed in that position I was doomed to fail every time. I had to admit to my therapist, that I couldn’t visualize myself getting up from that seat! Even if I imagined I could do it once, I knew I couldn’t do it consistently over time. I knew in my heart that if the situation I imagined had presented itself in real life, I would try to create a relationship with that person that would lead somewhere it shouldn’t go. Even though I would not have admitted it at the time, I had lost my willpower given the wrong circumstances.
So what was the solution for me? Was there a realistic answer? It took me a while to think of an honest solution but when it came to me, it was simpler than I expected. I finally came to the realization that I had no power to stop myself if I was presented with a bad scenario. I only had the power to create a safe scenario so I would not find myself in that situation in the first place. How would I do that? Not ever fly again? Maybe.
My solution was to make sure my imagined situation could never take place. I would only be able to stop the situation before it started. I would never allow myself to sit beside an attractive woman because I would bring another attractive female on each flight: my wife. The solution would cost more money, and impose on my wife’s time, but for us it was a small price to pay to receive protection from a situation where I was powerless over my addiction. With my wife at my side, those flights became more peaceful. I didn’t have to think about who sat next to me. In addition I would now spend more time with my wife and enjoy the warmer weather of our destination in contrast to the Utah winter.
Eventually I ended up changing to a job that didn’t require frequent travel, but I had established from that moment of my life a boundary that provided me protection. The boundary that I don’t fly alone. Twenty years later I still respect that boundary, my wife and I love to get a way and we have become great traveling partners.
This boundary didn’t constrain me, it gave me freedom and peace of mind because I knew I didn’t have to think about who sat next to me or who I would have with me in the hotel room that night. I didn’t have to choose between good and evil. I chose not to choose. I made the decision to take away a choice that would harm me.
If I have problems with pornography on the internet, I can choose to add a filter to my computer and phone and have the password set by my wife or an accountability partner. Once I make that choice, I make the decision to be free from the future choices the temptation will present to me. I make the decision in advance to not have access to sites that will trigger me. I create a boundary of protection.
Do you remember in the Book of Mormon all those fortresses that captain Moroni had his people erect against the innumerable hosts of the Laminates? They created walls of protection that saved their lives. I loved this analogy when I first heard it. I always wondered why there were so many chapters on war in the Book of Mormon. I have since come to realize that those chapters speak to me. They speak of my war, my conflict.
Once I am humble enough to see that I need walls of protection, my boundaries make my life more manageable. I no longer have to consider my enemy’s numerous possible approaches to my soul. There are barriers, walls that help me be more safe and therefore I am free.
The walls themselves are useless without a heart that desires protection. For the Nephites the walls and ditches they built to repel the Lamanites were of little use unless they exercised their desire for divine protection. It was their righteous desires and the power of God that delivered them. So it is with my boundaries. You and I, as addicts, know that no matter how many filters we put in our lives- if we don’t have the heart to follow Him, there is no filter, no boundary, no wall tall enough or strong enough to stop us from going out there to act out.
It is only through His power that the obsession of the addiction can be kept in check. Not gone- but restrained. The boundaries I create give me the freedom to not have to choose every day or every moment if I am going to go to the left or to the right. Choosing not to choose is a great tool, but only He can begin to change our hearts from within.
So what are the boundaries that you should create?
I cannot speak of anyone’s boundaries but my own. I will give some examples that have worked for me and others, but I believe each journey is unique. Your experience with the Spirit will guide you to create boundaries that are tailored to you. Your sponsor and others will also be able to help you. You probably already know what some of your boundaries should be. Things that you have likely postponed for too long. Things you may think you cannot live without. Things that will require a lot of faith, strength and hope from you. This is the part of the equation you have to bring to the table. This part is what makes us ask Him, “what lack I yet” or “what do you want me to give up?” What is my part to surrender, the part to which I am so attached, that unless I let go I cannot expect divine help? Sometimes the answer will seem more than you can bear. I know it is hard. All I can tell you is that when you give up whatever that is- things will be better. I promise you that He does take the sting of giving up what seems so much a part of us.
The Spirit will guide you to have courage and to help you know how to build your fort of protection. Perhaps your walls must be higher or thicker. Your sponsor, accountability partner, bishop or others in a group can help you with building your own fort.
In the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous it says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
There are some things we cannot change. The Goliath of our addiction comes to us and invites us every day to battle with him. We can only muster our courage to change the things we can. But you and I know that the small sling of a filter on a computer, or the repeated plea of my prayers and daily scripture study cannot stop this eight foot well-armored challenger on their own. But if I do what I can, if I build my protective boundary walls, God will do something for me, that which I will call “the miracle that changed my life.”
While working with others, I have asked them to provide me a written list of ten boundaries that they should have in their lives to protect themselves. Here’s a sample list:
Filter my computer or mobile device for which, of course, I don’t have the password. My wife or my sponsor may have that password and only they can grant me access to blocked sites.
Avoid all R-rated movies despite their content and also many PG-13 movies that contain triggering images or language.
Do not watch TV late at night, especially when alone. Set a time that I will go to bed and if I have to stay up late for special events, do not stay up by myself. Be accountable to my sponsor through a text or a call if there is an exception to my bedtime and report to them when I do go to bed.
Do not go to the store by myself and wander around. This boundary created a better relationship with my children as I asked them to come with me to the store, even if it meant bribing them with a treat. At the beginning of my recovery it was better to have my wife with me instead of my children.
Do not drive through streets where I know there might be triggering situations, even if it takes longer to get to where I’m going. Gas money spent, is meaningless when compared with the price of saving my soul.
Do my Dailies. These are things that I should do on a regular schedule. Use meditation and pondering when reading The White Book of SA, the scriptures, Church magazines and other materials. Have morning and evening prayer. Pray with my wife morning and evening. Have self-examination, with daily prayer and meditation. (I am repeating myself on purpose). Physical exercise, daily if possible, but a minimum of three times weekly.
Commit to recovery meetings. Commit to not just attend, but commit to participate. Going to 12 Step meetings is essential in recovery.
Report to my accountability partner or sponsor at the end of every day. Let them know how things went that day. Report via text, phone call, voicemail, or whatever method it takes to make sure I have daily contact. I need someone to be accountable to everyday, regardless of what my report might be.
If there are relationships that are toxic in my life- be they friends, work associates, or people by whom I am triggered- consider what might be required to change that. Sometimes a job change or physical move may be necessary.
Unlike other addictions, we don’t have to go buy or sell to have our drug. Our drug is the thoughts in our head, and we can bring up those images any time we want. Dwelling on those thoughts will trigger us. So we need to keep our thoughts in check.
This list may not be easy. You may find it difficult to do some of these things. That is understandable, but please don’t be discouraged. Just start somewhere, even if it’s only a decision to start going to meetings. If you are a person who is sick and tired of dealing with your addiction, the list of suggestions above can help.
When those I sponsor come to me with their list for review, we discuss any changes or adjustments that we both feel are necessary, then we do something a little harder. I ask them if they would now prayerfully consider ten more boundaries they should set for themselves. The next list is more difficult because these are the things we may not even be aware are part of our addiction cycle. The addiction has infiltrated the crevices of every aspect of our lives. It influences many things we do. It lives in our minds. Alcoholics call these their hidden bottles. The following is an example of ten more boundaries that might be considered my hidden bottles:
The way I talk to others- in my case, to women at my office or female clients. Would I talk to them that way if I knew the person on the other side of the phone was an overweight, fifty year old male rather than a beautiful woman?
Secret money or accounts. Having access to cash or accounts that I can use to pay for my addiction. I have seen a lot of creativity in this arena. You know what to do on this one.
Asking others to lock their computers because I knew that when they were not there I could use those devices for my addictive behaviors.
For a while I struggled with the way I would choose my clothes in the mornings. Who was I looking to impress or to attract with what I chose to wear?
The car I drove. Yes, I had to get rid of a car that I was very fond of, because when I was at a stop light I wanted others to notice me and I wanted to be lusted after.
Other emotions. For example I noticed that when I was resentful I was more prone to seek my drug to medicate myself in order to feel better.
Physical health and rest. I was most vulnerable when I was tired, hungry, or when I was sick and didn’t feel well.
Boredom. Having no purpose or plan was always a trigger.
Creating safe work or school conditions. You spend most of your day at work or school, it is only logical that your work or school environment should be safe for you. For some of us this should be on the first list.
Be patient with your progress. Failure provides opportunity to learn how you can do things better next time, giving you understanding you might not have otherwise gained.
One evening as I was visiting a friend after a recovery meeting, he told me that the person he sponsored was sober most of the time but after going to a recovery meeting he would feel triggered. Looking at the situation closer he came to realize that after every recovery meeting, he would go to a local restaurant and eat a large meal. My friend, his sponsor, asked him to stop going to that restaurant after meetings and sure enough, the triggering stopped. Was it the food, the amount of food or the people he saw? It was an unhealthy ritual that he had to remove in order to stay sober.
Our addiction is like jello. You think you have it controlled by pushing it away but it ends up appearing somewhere else. As we progress in recovery we learn that the small things we do are sometimes hard to give up because we think we can’t cope without them, yet it is in these small things that we can find daily victory.
There was a day when I became aware that I would take a look at every girl that I passed while jogging. My two second glance was something I had done my entire life and something I had seen every male do. How could that be harmful? Although it felt harmless to me, it fed my addiction. So I decided to stop doing it.
Just like the chain smoker who says, “I can quit anytime I want,” I soon realized that once I decided to quit, it was really hard. I had to pray and talk to the Lord instead of looking. It was a daily fight and I had to be consistent in surrendering my automatic response, but with daily victories and the grace of God I, I no longer have to look. Today I have a choice.
The Plague of Pornography
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Utah Coalition Against Pornography Keynote Address March 12, 2016
My dear friends and colleagues of the Utah Coalition, thank you for this invitation today and for your service in this important cause. I am personally indebted to all who serve in the coalition, especially to Pamela Atkinson in particular, who accepted my plea almost a decade ago now to accept this assignment, taking yet one more heroic civic task on to her already burdened shoulders. Thank you, Pamela, for this and all else you do in this community and thank you for what you mean to me personally. In the language of a favorite Latter-day Saint scriptural phrase from the prophet Isaiah, you are “a marvelous work and a wonder.” And you probably wonder why more of us don’t do a little more of the work!
I can’t really tell you much you don’t already know about the evils of pornography—so I will tell you some things you do know: That there is steadily, inexorably, unendingly more of it, that it is easier than ever for everyone, including children, to access, and that it continues to rend the very moral fabric of our society whether that be the family, the community, the state or the nation. That is because in every case, it rends the moral fabric of each individual who views it or otherwise participates in its production or distribution.
Research on Pornography Use
I am encouraged that significant studies continue to come in and various collective efforts continue to be made which help us in this war we have declared. I note that a major study is coming next month from the Barna Group entitled “The Porn Phenomenon.” It is a study sponsored by the Josh McDowell Ministries and has an admittedly Christian orientation. However, the advantage of this study for everyone, Christian or otherwise, will be that it is a very large study with more than 3,000 interviews across a very wide range of questions. Some of the early findings in that project tell us, among other things, that pornography is a much-more readily researchable topic than it was two decades ago. Unfortunately that is because the subject does not have the same social taboo that it once did. When respondents were allowed to opt out of questions that were very personal in nature, more than 90% continued through the survey questions. That does give data reliability to the study, but it is also a commentary on people’s willingness to talk comfortably about their own use of pornography in a way that they might not have done in an earlier time.
The study finds that most Americans still believe that pornography is bad for society, but that those attitudes among younger generations are shifting toward neutrality or even that pornography is “good for society.” It is reported that 89% of teens and 95% of young adults regularly have “encouraging” or “accepting” conversations with their peers about pornography use. That means that of those interviewed only 1 in 20 young adults and 1 in 10 teens say they and their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing. By comparison you might be interested to know that those same teens and young adults view “not recycling” household plastic and paper as a more immoral sin than viewing pornography.
While pornography has typically been a man’s domain issue, it is to me a very sad fact that its usage among young women is becoming more common, perhaps due to digital access. In the Barna study more than half of the women 25 and under who were interviewed seek out pornography “occasionally” and one-third seek it out at least monthly.
The Barna people note, not surprisingly, that pornography has gone almost completely digital. Magazines, videos, novels, and cable TV are now a very small part of the pornography market with 71% of adults and 85% of teens and young adults viewing their pornography online. In this digital age, unsolicited pornography has increased substantially as well. Nearly half of young adults interviewed said they come across pornography at least once a week even when they are not seeking it out. Well, so much for the disheartening data that continue to roll in.
Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography
Because of my ecclesiastical office in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints much of my concern about the evils of pornography are framed in religious terms, the language of commandments, of personal purity, of worthiness, and spirituality, knowing as we do that the damage pornography does through a diseased physical appetite is even more destructive to the spirit than it is to the body. For that reason I was very interested, as I know you were, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued last year their definitive and highly instructive position paper, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography.” There is much in that document that will be of value not only for the Catholic priesthood and their parishioners but also for all the rest of us who fight this problem and see its evils in the context of our own religious faiths, or simply our personal moral positions.
Of so much that is useful and instructive in their declaration, I think I resonated most to something in their introductory statement. Addressing their concerns for “children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry,” these good bishops declared the exponential growth of the pornography industry to something bordering on a “public health crisis.”
That analogy struck home with me because it parallels my own view of this issue—namely, that no real headway can or will be made in this battle until there is a much deeper, much broader, and frankly much more fearful concern about the actual threat of pornography than we presently see in society in general. Thus our Catholic friends serve the cause well to ring the “public health” alarm as they do. Society must see this evil like the epidemic it is and with those good bishops’ indulgence I can use that word “plague” with literal rather than metaphorical intent. We do need to see this like avian flu, cholera, diphtheria or polio.
The Public Health Crisis of Pornography
If this moral plague could catch our imagination the way a medical epidemic does, we would be calling out every available member of the health care industry, every doctor and nurse and technician and orderly; we would have the attention of every father and mother, every grandparent and aunt and uncle asking what they could do; we would see educators and businessmen, lawyers and scientists, PTA organizations and welfare agencies lining up to send out flyers, to flood the airwaves, to give immunization shots at the local grocery store, to put up “Uncle Sam Wants You” posters in the post office, and to have night wardens with little tin helmets watching for danger the way Winston Churchill’s Londoners did during the Blitz of World War II. Yes, this ought to be seen like a public health crisis; like an infectious, fatal epidemic; like a moral plague on the body politic that is maiming the lives of our citizens. Frankly, until the sirens of a public-health war sound, I fear we will be wholly unsuccessful in this fight against the germ-invasion sweeping across our homeland.
With the paper issued by the Catholic bishops as backdrop, let me reflect briefly on some of my views and concerns as an officer in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I do not intend this to be denominational, but I am unable to speak out of any context but my own. With that caveat I ask you to consider for example Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He declared, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman [or I might readily add, a man] to lust after her [or him] hath committed adultery . . . in his heart.” In LDS scripture is this reinforcing declaration: “And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.”
Surely no “commandment,” if we may use that language, could more directly address and condemn the sin of pornography than that passage! We can’t help but wonder if Christ in the meridian of time might have seen such a latter-day threat, not unlike but well beyond whatever salacious or unseemly looks a man or woman might have given one another in the centuries before photos and films, before the Internet and Snapchat. Note also how pornography defiles both the letter and the spirit of that entire legendary Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said as a foundational charge to His disciples there: “Ye are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” “Light of the world” ? The trash that goes on in both the production and the viewing of pornography is almost always in the darkest of hovels, the dingiest of settings, the dirtiest of environments. “Let your light so shine before men” ? The one great rule of pornography is that no light is to shine on it; it is secretive, hidden, after hours, unsuspecting, unrecognized, as unknown as possible. “Good works” ? These are the most destructive and evil works of modern times. “Glorify your Father which is in heaven” ? It is the most inglorious, deceitful and destructive work known on such a wide basis in the society of our day, affecting young and old by the millions on a wholesale basis. There is no glory in this business, no glory of God or of the man, woman or child who produces, performs, purchases, views or perpetuates it. Catholic bishops, Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis and Muslim mullahs have spoken out on this sin because God Himself has spoken out on it. Yes, heaven itself abhors this practice.
Whatever it is that allows one to be involved in the production and performance of these materials—greed, anger, lack of self-worth, abuse in their formative years, emotional or social imbalance of some kind—whatever the reasons, they are all antithetical to the human soul, to a healthy psyche and to a rewarding intimate relationship with someone that person does actually come to love. One wonders whether those who produce pornography, perform it, or view it will over time retain any capacity for healthy human intimacy, for a truly loving sexual experience, or for true dignity in any human relationship, sexual or otherwise. Add to that the even more repulsive trafficking that forces younger, pre-marital innocent children into that world of decadence and violence, and we see the enormity of this violence against the human soul and the family of mankind.
Damage to the Soul
I inevitably keep referring to damage done to the soul, as any minister of religion might well do, but perhaps a brief reference to Latter-day Saint doctrine can underscore that concept even more. Mormons define the soul in a somewhat unique way. For us “soul” is not just a synonym for “spirit.” It is more than that. In canonized LDS revelation is this simple declaration about the Atonement of Christ:
“Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead.
“And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.”
Therefore, for us—for me—anyone who trivializes or demeans or violates the body trivializes and demeans and violates the soul. One cannot exploit the body without also damaging the spirit because these two are inseparably connected in every man, woman or child.
Furthermore I have often had the feeling that a great preventive for this evil would be the realization-if such could ever effectively be communicated to the producer, or distributor, or viewer-that the person on that screen or in that magazine or on that internet site is someone’s son or daughter, to say nothing of the fact that they are God’s son or daughter. And what if it were your son or daughter? To what end would we not go to storm the barricades, to damn the torpedoes, to run into a burning building to rescue a son or daughter from danger, from disease, from destruction, from death? I can’t imagine a solitary man or woman who could proceed with a pornographic experience if he or she remembered that the actor on the screen, the object of their perversion, was their son or daughter, their sister or brother. And the sad fact of the matter is every one of those performers is someone’s child, is someone’s flesh and bone, is someone’s family treasure gone awry.
An Addiction of the Highest Order
Of all that we wish to say about this epidemic, it behooves us to say again, even against outrageous claims to the contrary, that pornography can be an addiction of the highest order. I realize that not every user is technically “addicted” and I don’t want the use of that term to suggest getting out from under its influence is a hopeless dream. But continuing scientific research—including the work of my friend Dr. Don Hilton and many others—along with the personal testimony of victims, confirms that even casual pornography viewing can lead to compulsive viewing and entrapment in what one psychologist labeled “a cycle of fantasy.” What Dr. Hilton and other physicians are documenting is that pornography, which electronically can offer sound and motion as well as visual images, can rewire the neural circuits of the brain in a way that the tendency toward impulsiveness becomes supercharged and the center for willpower shrinks. All of this directly affects what are called the brain’s “reward pathways” and as such can have an impact on the brain similar to what cocaine does for a person with a drug addiction or alcohol does for an alcoholic. This person simply craves more and more, regularly seeking a higher number of or more extreme examples of visual images in order to get what was an earlier, easier “high.”
Even though pornography increasingly comes with the generosity of the three “A”s—accessibility, affordability and anonymity—nevertheless, as addiction grows (or insatiable habit if you prefer that language) a person frequently takes increased risks to view it, such as accessing it at work or at home with family members nearby. This, of course, can lead to embarrassment, guilt, marital destruction, social ostracism, termination of employment and so forth but the viewer often feels out of control and unable to stop. Thank heaven there are an increasing number of clinics, support groups and recovery programs for both the viewer and their innocent family members. Nevertheless, near the top of any list of “unfinished business” is our recognizing of and remedying the damage done to spouses, children, and other innocent victims who are often nearly—or literally—destroyed by a loved one who is caught in the pornography habit. Churches, schools, public service agencies and others are trying to do more in this regard which gives us all hope, but, as I said, this collateral damage to family is serious “unfinished business” we must address.
Well, we all need to help. We all need to teach. We all need to warn. We cannot simply wring our hands about this. Let me offer a modest little formula that I have used in counseling over the years. It isn’t very clever and not at all sophisticated, but I add it as something easy to remember and, if you feel to do so, easy to dismiss.
Over the years I have usually concluded a session with my “counselees” by asking them to hold FAST—“fast” being a double entendré for firmness or stability, but also for a religious practice which can bring spiritual strength to all in times of need.
F – is for “flee.” My first admonition to anyone struggling with pornography is to leave the scene of the crime, to get away from the temptation, to put distance between the person and the problem in any way possible. The pull of proximity can be fatal. Like Joseph in the presence of Potiphar’s wife, I say just run! That Old Testament scripture says “he . . . fled, and got him[self] out.” So “F” is for “flee.” That is not easy when the problem is so omnipresent and readily accessible, but we must try to get out of harm’s way. And please, do not leave a forwarding address!
A – is for “ask.” Whether it be pride or embarrassment or fear of punishment, too many who struggle with this problem do not ask for help. My theory is that initially anyone who is trustworthy can be asked to help—a parent, spouse, friend, Church leader, counselor, physician, and so on. If such people are not themselves trained to help, surely they will know others who are. Above all I would have a person struggling with pornography ask God for help, pleading for the mercy and grace of the Almighty to aid him or her in this difficult task. I would ask and ask until my throat was hoarse. I would knock and knock until my knuckles were bloody. On this serious matter I would be as the importuning widow, trusting that the Judge will hear my cry and open the door to protection.
S – is for “strive.” Related to the tenacity of asking for help is striving constantly to win this battle once the help comes. Everyone in this room knows pornography is not a simple problem and it will not be overcome easily. It will take work—in Churchill’s famous words: “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” But I believe virtually every problem in life will ultimately yield to persistent effort aided by divine assistance. It may take days, it may take years, it may take a lifetime but I believe in the reward of persistent effort, so “S” is for “strive”—with all one’s heart.
T – is for “triumph.” I know people can win this war. I have seen them do it and so have you. I could name names and so could you. We have to believe. Surely there has never been any battle won in life in which the victor did not believe that victory was possible. Victims of one crisis or another can live without a lot of things—I have known people who have lived without love, lived without comfort, lived without money, even lived for a time without food. But no one can live very long without hope. They need to have and keep that hope always—to believe they can be victorious in this battle, that they can conquer this implacable foe. We are the ones to give these people that confidence. So “T” is for “triumph” in my plea to hold FAST. And triumph we must, for both heaven’s and earth’s sake.
When these temptations and tribulations come to any of the victims of whom we have spoken—after coalitions like ours have done everything they know how to do socially, politically, economically and every other way—after all that can be done has been done to break the bondage of this plague and the industry that drives it, I pray that the individual will assume personal responsibility and “hold fast” saying as one young prophet once said, “[I will] give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”
Let me conclude by offering the basis for the hope I have; it is hope of the highest kind. I have deep, personal feelings for the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of his redemption. I declare that force, that pull, that saving grace to be infinite and eternal in its reach, a force and a grace that will save us from all kinds of bondage and lift all kinds of burdens if we but permit it, if we but seek it, and allow it into our lives. When hope is gone and lives are shattered in a hundred different ways for a thousand different reasons, the reality of Christ’s redemptive, lifting, exalting power is still there. Against all odds and in spite of so much sin in the world, His promise is permanent, peaceful and everlasting. At the very conclusion of His ministry, virtually the last thing He ever said to His disciples before entering the loneliness of Gethsemane and carrying His cross to Calvary was, “These things [His teachings, His blessings, His promises, His doctrine] I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” He is the sure way and the secure path. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” In asking all to hold “fast,” I also declare that Christ’s Atonement and redemption is the most certain reality in life. To hold fast to Him is to hold fast to true safety, true salvation.
Friends, the task in this moral public health crisis seems overwhelming and the odds in the battle are sometimes not favorable to us. So as Tom Paine said of another battle, this is no time for summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. My thanks to the Utah Coalition for issuing the call to arms and for fighting the good fight, whatever the moral weather may be and whatever the personal cost involved. Thank you and God bless you in your efforts.
Article can be found in the April 2015 Ensign, or online, here.
Limitations and inadequacies are not sins and do not keep us from being clean and worthy of the Spirit.
“Am I really worthy to enter God’s house? How can I be if I’m not perfect?”
“Can God really make my weakness into a strength? I’ve fasted and prayed for days to have this problem removed from me, but nothing seems to change.”
“In the mission field I lived the gospel more consistently than at any time in my life, but I have never been more aware of my shortcomings. Why, when I was being so good, did I sometimes feel so bad?”
As we ponder such questions, it is crucial to understand that while sin inevitably leads us away from God,weakness, ironically, can lead us toward Him.
Composite photograph by tibu and Givaga/iStock/Thinkstock
Distinguishing between Sin and Weakness
We commonly think of sin and weakness as merely different-sized black marks on the fabric of our souls, different severities of transgression. But the scriptures imply that sin and weakness are inherently different, require different remedies, and have the potential to produce different results.
Most of us are more familiar with sin than we care to admit, but let’s review: Sin is a choice to disobey God’s commandments or rebel against the Light of Christ within us. Sin is a choice to trust Satan over God, placing us at enmity with our Father. Unlike us, Jesus Christ was completely without sin and could atone for our sins. When we sincerely repent—including changing our mind, heart, and behavior; offering appropriate apologies or confessions; making restitution where possible; and not repeating that sin in the future—we can access the Atonement of Jesus Christ, be forgiven by God, and be clean again.
Becoming clean is essential because nothing unclean can dwell in God’s presence. But if our only goal were to be as innocent as we were when we left God’s presence, we would all be better off lying snugly in our cribs for the rest of our lives. Rather, we came to earth to learn by experience to distinguish good from evil, grow in wisdom and skill, live values we care about, and acquire the characteristics of godliness—progress we cannot make from the safe confines of a bassinet.
Human weakness plays an important role in these essential purposes of mortality. When Moroni worried that his weakness in writing would cause the Gentiles to mock sacred things, the Lord reassured him with these words:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27; see also 1 Corinthians 15:42–44; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; 2 Nephi 3:21; and Jacob 4:7).
The implications of this familiar scripture are profound and invite us to distinguish sin (encouraged by Satan) from weakness (described here as a condition “given” to us by God).
We might define weakness as the limitation on our wisdom, power, and holiness that comes with being human. As mortals we are born helpless and dependent, with various physical flaws and predispositions. We are raised and surrounded by other weak mortals, and their teachings, examples, and treatment of us are faulty and sometimes damaging. In our weak, mortal state we suffer physical and emotional illness, hunger, and fatigue. We experience human emotions like anger, grief, and fear. We lack wisdom, skill, stamina, and strength. And we are subject to temptations of many kinds.
Though He was without sin, Jesus Christ joined us fully in the condition of mortal weakness (see 2 Corinthians 13:4). He was born as a helpless infant in a mortal body and raised by imperfect caretakers. He had to learn how to walk, talk, work, and get along with others. He got hungry and tired, felt human emotions, and could get ill, suffer, bleed, and die. He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” subjecting Himself to mortality so He could “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” and succor us in our infirmities or weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15; see also Alma 7:11–12).
We cannot simply repent of being weak—nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we reject sin, but we also do not grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God. When Moroni fretted about the weakness of his writing, God did not tell him to repent. Instead, the Lord taught him to be humble and to have faith in Christ. As we are meek and faithful, God offers grace—not forgiveness—as the remedy for weakness. Grace is an enabling power from God to do what we cannot do on our own (see Bible Dictionary, “Grace”)—the appropriate godly remedy by which He can “make weak things become strong.”
Exercising Humility and Faith
From early on in our Church experience, we are taught the essential elements of repentance, but how exactly do we foster humility and faith? Consider the following:
Ponder and pray. Because we are weak, we may not recognize if we are dealing with sin (calling for an immediate and pervasive change of mind, heart, and behavior) or with weakness (calling for humble, sustained effort, learning, and improvement). How we view these things can depend on our upbringing and maturity. There may even be elements of both sin and weakness in a single behavior. Saying a sin is really a weakness leads to rationalizing instead of repenting. Saying a weakness is a sin can result in shame, blame, despair, and giving up on God’s promises. Pondering and praying help us make these distinctions.
•Prioritize. Because we are weak, we cannot make every needed change all at once. As we humbly and faithfully tackle our human weakness a few aspects at a time, we can gradually reduce ignorance, make good patterns habitual, increase our physical and emotional health and stamina, and strengthen our trust in the Lord. God can help us know where to begin.
•Plan. Because we are weak, getting stronger will require more than a righteous desire and lots of self-discipline. We also need to plan, learn from mistakes, develop more effective strategies, revise our plans, and try again. We need help from scriptures, relevant books, and other people. We start small, rejoice in improvement, and take risks (even though they make us feel vulnerable and weak). We need supports to help us make good choices even when we are tired or discouraged and plans for getting back on track when we slip.
•Exercise patience. Because we are weak, change may take time. We don’t just renounce our weakness the way we renounce sin. Humble disciples willingly do what’s required, learn resilience, keep trying, and do not give up. Humility helps us have patience with ourselves and with others who are weak too. Patience is a manifestation of our faith in the Lord,gratitude for His confidence in us, and trust in His promises.
Even when we sincerely repent of our sins, obtainforgiveness, and become clean again, we remain weak. We are still subject to illness, emotion, ignorance, predispositions, fatigue, and temptation. But limitations and inadequacies are not sins and do not keep us from being clean and worthy of the Spirit.
Weakness to Strength
Composite photo illustration by littlehenrabi and Givaga/iStock/Thinkstock
While Satan is eager to use our weakness to entice us to sin, God can use human weakness to teach, strengthen, and bless us. Contrary to what we might expect or hope, however, God does not always “make weak things become strong” unto us by eliminating our weakness. When the Apostle Paul prayed repeatedly for God to remove a “thorn in the flesh” Satan used to buffet him, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7, 9).
There are many ways the Lord makes “weak things become strong.” While He may eliminate the weakness through the dramatic cure we hope for, in my personal experience this is somewhat rare. For example, I see no evidence that God eliminated Moroni’s weakness in writing after the famous verse in Ether 12. God may also make weak things strong by helping us work around our weaknesses, gain an appropriate sense of humor or perspective about them, and improve on them gradually over time. Also, strengths and weaknesses are often related (like the strength of perseverance and the weakness of bullheadedness), and we can learn to value the strength and temper the weakness that goes with it.
There is another, even more powerful way that God makes weak things strong unto us. The Lord says to Moroni in Ether 12:37, “Because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.”
Here God is not offering to change Moroni’s weakness, but to change Moroni. By tackling the challenge of human weakness, Moroni—and we—can learn charity, compassion, meekness, patience, courage, long-suffering, wisdom, stamina, forgiveness, resilience, gratitude, creativity, and a host of other virtues that make us more like our Father in Heaven. These are the very qualities we came to earth to hone, the Christlike attributes that prepare us for the mansions above.
Nowhere is God’s love, wisdom, and redemptive power more evident than in His ability to turn our struggle with human weakness into the invaluable godly virtues and strengths that make us more like Him.
The Promise of the Atonement
“Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ. …
“I repeat, save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.”
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Brilliant Morning ofForgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 19–20.
Watch the talk below. Originally given July 12, 2011.
I am grateful to be here with my wife, Debi, and my two youngest children—who are currently attending BYU—and several other family members who have come to be with us.
It is an honor to be invited to speak to you today. Several years ago I received an invitation to speak at Women’s Conference. When I told my wife, she asked, “What have they asked you to speak on?”
I was so excited that I got my words mixed up and said, “They want me to speak about changing strengths into weaknesses.”
She thought for a minute and said, “Well, they’ve got the right man for the job!”
She’s correct about that. I could give a whale of a talk on that subject, but I think today I had better go back to the original topic and speak about changing weaknesses into strengths and about how the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27, D&C 17:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9)—sufficient to cover us, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes.
Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us
A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”
She said, “I just don’t get grace.”
I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”
She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”
She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.
She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”
She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.
Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”
Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”
She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
I said, “Wrong.”
She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”
I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”
“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”
Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 2 Nephi 2:7; 3 Nephi 9:20).
“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”
“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”
Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us
Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.
I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”
They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”
I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”
Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.
I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.
His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”
I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”
We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.
In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.
Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”
Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.
But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.
Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us
“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?
Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.
There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.
There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.
I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.
I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.
In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).
One young man wrote me the following e-mail: “I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I’m worthy, but I’m just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ’s grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace.”
I wrote him back and testified with all my heart that Christ is not waiting at the finish line once we have done “all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). He is with us every step of the way.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155). So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).
In twelve days we celebrate Pioneer Day. The first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Their journey was difficult and challenging; still, they sang:
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear; But with joy wend your way. Though hard to you this journey may appear, Grace shall be as your day.
[“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, 2002, no. 30]
“Grace shall be as your day”—what an interesting phrase. We have all sung it hundreds of times, but have we stopped to consider what it means? “Grace shall be as your day”: grace shall be like a day. As dark as night may become, we can always count on the sun coming up. As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. Faithful pioneers knew they were not alone. The task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.
The grace of Christ is sufficient—sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). As we do, we do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (see Luke 1:37).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said the following:
Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .
. . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .
. . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. [CR, October 1976, 14, 16; “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, November 1976, 12, 14]
With Elder Maxwell, I testify that God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don’t quit. Keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling power we call His amazing grace. I leave this testimony and all of my love—for I do love you. As God is my witness, I love the youth of this church. I believe in you. I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Brad Wilcox was serving as a member of the Sunday School General Board of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as a BYU associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education in the David O. McKay School of Education when this devotional address was given on 12 July 2011.
This is the biggest conference in the country educating the public about the problems and solutions concerning pornography. Join over a thousand community members who care about protecting families and communities and learn how you can help. This year we are pleased to be meeting at the Salt Palace Convention Center, where there will be plenty of room for all who would like to come.